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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Yet Another Reason to Get Excited about MOCKINGJAY - PART 1: Lorde is Writing the Film's First Single and Curating the Soundtrack



Here I am patiently waiting for Lorde's next album to drop (while still blasting "Royals" at high volume) when I received the press release from Lionsgate about this awesome news! At first, I thought this was so un-Lorde, but when I thought about it a little more I realized that the story of a socially awkward heroine who must reluctantly become the new face of the rebellion is very similar to Lorde's platform and celebrity as a 17-year-old pop starlet who eagerly defies type. So I am here for this!

Now don't go rushing to iTunes anytime soon, though. Since THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 won't be in theaters until November 21st, the soundtrack will be available via Republic Records this fall.  I don't have any other information regarding the Lorde's upcoming lead single from the film, including its title, but according to her remarks in the press release it's going to blow our minds (naturally). "Curating the soundtrack for such a hotly-anticipated film was a challenge, but I jumped at the chance,” said Lorde.  “The cast and story are an inspiration for all musicians participating and, as someone with cinematic leanings, being privy to a different creative process has been a unique experience. I think the soundtrack is definitely going to surprise people.”

The film's director Francis Lawrence echoes Lorde's excitement for the collaboration: “I sat down with Lorde on the set of Mockingjay this spring and I was immediately struck by how she so innately understood what we, as both fans and filmmakers, were trying to accomplish with the film. Her immense talent and keen understanding of Mockingjay’s characters and themes not only have enabled her to create a song of her own that completely captures the film’s essence, but her insight and passion for our project make her the perfect creative force to assemble the other songs on our soundtrack.  I can't wait to share what she's done with the fans -- it is truly remarkable."

I AM READY. Are you?

On LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON and the Difficult Task of Remaining Cautiously Optimistic about American Remakes

Masahuru Fukuyama and Keita Ninomiya in Like Father, Like Son


Many film fans fall into despair upon learning of yet another remake, usually for nostalgic reasons (as in my case) or a crippling fear that the reboot will be far less than spectacular. Typically, these worries are met, but often Hollywood surprises us (though I can't think of a recent case like this). But we hardly receive the same level of outrage (or even reaction at all) when it comes to foreign films getting remade in the U.S. Sure, there was a mild outcry when director Spike Lee announced plans for the eventually ill-fated Oldboy remake, but most of the time there's an unspoken "well now I can watch a great movie without the hassle of subtitles" sentiment that says more about the movie-going culture than the actual film. It's even worse for foreign horror films, oft remade in English but receive little to no scrutiny because, well, they're horror films and the assumption is that no one really cares about those. 

But I'm not writing this post to lament about the saturated U.S. remake culture we live in. (Besides, I like some of these remakes, let's be clear). I want to discuss one in particular--LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON. Last year's beautiful Japanese family drama directed by notable filmmaker Kore-eda Hirokazu has been in my head ever since I first saw it a few weeks ago. So much so that I've been obsessively adding as many other Hirokazu titles to my Netflix queue as is available. What is most special about the movie (and from what I've read, about many of Hirokazu's films), is what it's not: it's not a martial arts film, or an action film or a comedy, which are all genres that are generally more accepted by the casual U.S. filmgoer. Its universal themes--family, love, class, fatherhood--instantly enrapture the audience with a story that seeps deep inside your heart.

Left to right: Machiko Ono, Fukuyama, Riri Furanki, Yoko Maki,
Shogen Hwang, Ninomiya


Often flippantly referred to as the "the child swap drama" in several online reviews, LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON is the story of two families who learn that their six-year-old sons were accidentally switched at birth in the hospital. They are then faced with the tough decision to either grant partial custody to one another, continue to raise their sons as their own, or allow their sons to live with their biological parents permanently. It's an onerous predicament for sure, one that many of us could not even begin to understand. But how the story unfolds is what makes it that more fascinating to watch. The main father, a businessman named Ryota (played by Masaharu Fukuyama), has never truly connected with his more artistic son, Keita (Keita Nonomiya), until he finally takes the time to build a relationship with him once he realized he may lose him. At the same time, Ryota grapples with the idea of fatherhood--Was he never truly connected with his son because he's not biological? Now that he knows he's not his biological son, is his guilt relinquished? And can he truly be a father to another son and abandon the one he's raised these past few years? While the film doesn't solely revolve around Masaharu's character (though really, each actor is exquisite), his performance is so complex and absorbing that at times you think he's the only one in the film.

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON gained a lot of attention when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year where it won the Jury Prize, notably from mega filmmaker Steven Spielberg who snagged the American rights to produce a U.S. remake. Listen, I like Spielberg and all (I go hard for E.T., Jurassic Park and Minority Report, especially), but I'm not thrilled about this remake. Not only am I worried that it will be completely whitewashed with not a single lead Asian character in it (a la Oldboy), but it may further enforce the notion that Asian characters or foreign films in general just don't appeal to American audiences. A notion that I am truly uncomfortable with. On the plus side, the remake will be in the hands of Paul and Christopher Weitz, whose most notable credits include About a Boy and A Better Life (and also American Pie and The Twilight Saga: The New Moon, but let's not talk about those). Still, I have concerns.

Ono and Maki


You know who doesn't seem the least bit worried about the remake, though? Hirokazu himself, who recently told Indiewire that he gives Spielberg his blessing. "I trust him," Hirokazu said. "I told him when I met him I was a bit afraid, I said, 'Please be free to adapt it for American society, like the relationships between the husbands and the wives —you can adapt that any way you like.' And Spielberg said 'No, I'm trying to keep it as Japanese—that is, as close to the original—as much as I can.' So I left him free to do as he wished but he says he wants to keep it to the original...whatever happens, I trust him."

Well, if Hirokazu is cool with it, then I guess we should all be? But something else struck me in this interview: the filmmaker's ideals on the universality of themes no matter the language, which I totally agree with. But I think the Hollywood has had a tendency in the past to err on the side of heavy-handedness in terms of erasing the essence of these types of characters to spoon feed the audience something presumably more familiar to them. We've seen it done in Edge of Tomorrow recently. Luckily, China scooped up plans for a biopic on Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American star, before the U.S. could (which means that there will likely be no whitewashing). But why does Hollywood continue to perpetuate the antiquated notion that Asian American characters are just not applicable to mainstream American audiences?

While Hirokazu has said he will not be involved in this new project, he has expressed his desire to visit the set. I am very curious to see who they will cast for the film. Though some remakes of foreign films have been quite good, and have captured the crux of the story being told, I am still concerned with the direction we're moving in, in terms of our acceptance and appreciate for foreign cinema.

Whatever happens with the LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON remake, whether it ends up being a disastrous failure or an epic success, I can only remain cautiously optimistic at this point. As Hirokazu said, "Films are more universal and less dependent on words than, say theater, so I would hope that not too much is lost."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"My Name's Forrest, Forrest Gump." The Classic Film Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary with an IMAX Re-Release

You know how there's one movie that you always find yourself defending on social media (or beyond) that everyone else seems to hate all of a sudden? For me, that movie is FORREST GUMP (and also Crash, but that's for another post). Yes, this sappy, little-engine- that-could story is one of my faves.

But despite the fact that the 1994 drama starring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Sally Field and Robin Wright won six Academy Awards (not always an indicator of quality, I know, but this is quite impressive) and grossed nearly $300 million domestically, people these days seem to reject it. So when I received the press release today that it will be coming back to theaters for one week in IMAX beginning September 5th, I'd be lying if I didn't say that I felt a sense of satisfaction.

I honestly can't  believe it's been 20 years already. I remember exactly which theater I first saw it and with whom. The new edition will also receive a special Diamond Deluxe Blu-Ray release from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on September 30 (which will matter to you Blu-Ray enthusiasts, though I am still cradling my DVD collection).

“As a ground-breaking achievement in both cinematography and visual effects for its time, Forrest Gump has become a modern American movie classic,” said Greg Foster, Senior Executive Vice President, IMAX Corp. and CEO of IMAX Entertainment in the press release. “We’re thrilled to once again collaborate with our longtime friends and partners Bob Zemeckis, Tom Hanks and Paramount. This film deserves a platform like The IMAX Experience® to help make its 20th anniversary one to remember.”

I for one am very pleased with this news. While I can't say it will bring me rushing to the theater to see it again (especially since it airs on loop in the famous Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. right here in New York City every day), it will be nice to see whether this gains a new audience. 

What say you? Thoughts on this re-release?

Trailer Watch: Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth Team Up for a New Thriller from the Writer of 28 WEEKS LATER



I've never been one to fall for these tedious amnesiac movies, but BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, based on the bestselling novel by S. J. Watson, has managed to attract big name talent for this story of a woman suffering from a memory loss after a devastating accident. Nicole Kidman plays said woman who, as she slowly begins to remember (how about that?) things from her past, starts to expect her husband (Colin Firth) of...something foreboding based on the music in the trailer.

After watching Kidman and Nicolas Cage in the godawful Trespass, I have to confess I am not so quick to run to a new thriller starring Kidman (and Firth is still on probation for the similarly abysmal Magic in the Moonlight more recently). So there's that. But there's also Mark Strong, who I've always felt just needed the right role to catapult him into Firth status. Plus (and here's the biggest draw for me), Rowan Joffe, who co-wrote 28 Weeks Later (and The American, but I choose to not acknowledge this one) wrote and directed BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP. And just like that, I'm now interested. 



Here's a little more on the film in its official synopsis:

A taut thriller based on the worldwide best-selling novel by S.J. Watson, BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is the story of a woman (Nicole Kidman) who wakes up every day with no memory as the result of a traumatic accident in her past. One day, terrifying new truths begin to emerge that make her question everything she thinks she knows about her life - as well as everyone in it, including her doctor (Mark Strong) and even her husband (Colin Firth).





Thoughts? BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is in theaters September 12th. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Katniss is the Leader of the Rebellion in the Teaser Trailer for THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY -- PART 1



I kinda wish studios would quit releasing teasers before the actual official trailer, because it's always too short and I want more More MORE! (cue Billy Idol). But of course I'm just one small voice in a sea of billions, many of whom got the chance to feast their eyes on the newest clip from THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY -- PART 1 at Comic-Con a few days ago in San Diego. For the rest of us who didn't attend the megafest, I've just received it in my inbox this AM and it's...such a tease.

If you've read the book, then you already know that Mockingjay thrusts Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) into a military-style environment where she is declared the official leader of the rebellion. This clip does a pretty good job at setting up that scene, with Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) trying to convince President Coin (Julianne Moore) that "No one else can do this but [Katniss]," to which she  responds menacingly: "She won't be able to handle it. The Games have destroyed her." If they stick to the book, you'll see a lot more of this friction between Coin and Katniss, who struggles to prevail in a world that's essentially been decimated.

Check it out:


I am so ready for this. THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 opens nationwide November 21st.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

5 Questions I Have After Watching the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY Trailer



As I've written previously on this blog, erotica tales are not my cup of tea. While watching pretty people doing sexy things on screen may hold my attention for, like, 15 minutes, a full length film just seems indulgent. Especially one that doesn't appear to have a premise, like FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (at least Addicted pretends to have one). But my curiosity got the best of me when I decided to check out the trailer for this film adaptation of E.L. James' popular first novel of the same name which has managed to titillate soccer moms everywhere. And, my, could it be more ridiculous than I even thought? Is that even possible?

Rather than offering my thoughts on the trailer, I'm just going to list the first questions that popped into my head while watching it.
  1. Who are these actors again? Should we care? Isn't watching two no-name actors copulating on screen kinda the same thing as watching a well choreographed home video sex tape gone viral? And if so, didn't the recent box office numbers for Sex Tape suggest that maybe said audiences weren't into that kind of thing (and at least we knew who those actors were)? 
  2. What's with the Devil Wears Prada rip-off? The actress here (I'll just call her Actress A to save time, because I know you don't really care who she is anyway) heads into a job( ?) interview with the dapper Christian Grey (played by Actor B) wearing similarly frumpy clothes a layer of low self-esteem and obviously clueless about who this guy is (I don't know who he is either, but he seems self-important, which means we should know him too?). At least Andy Sachs from Devil eventually transforms into a woman with great fashion and stands up for herself. Actress A's character seems to transform into a sex puppet. Awesome.
  3. Mr. Grey randomly states in the clip that "I don't do romance," yet we see him take Actress A on a fancy airplane ride and play songs for her on his piano. Yes, they have wild, kinky sex, but they also go out. Which...kinda reminds me of a relationship. A romantic one at that. So...?
  4. Wait, is Actress A supposed to be in love with Mr. Grey or whatever? Because why else would a creepy sounding remix of Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" (sans Jay Z, sadly) play throughout this clip? Is this a way to cater to the "urban" audience? Sorry, but I think Addicted already has that covered. Besides, this reminds me of Beyonce's equally strange contribution to the soundtrack of the hilariously bad Great Gatsby (shudders).  People, let's not do this again. Whatever you're trying to do, it ain't working. 
  5. What do fans of the books think of this trailer? I'm leaning heavily on the unfavorable side, but I haven't read the series. Is it as bad as this trailer? Is its mediocrity intentional? I'm clearly missing something here. 
Regardless of what people think of this trailer, I bet you anything this will likely be the number one movie when it opens just in time for Valentine's Day on February 13th next year. If you see a tall woman there in an oversized hat and sunglasses, that's just me incognito. I can't possibly show my face in the theater but I may need to know how they will fill up two hours with this nonsense

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

So, NIGHTCRAWLER Looks Like The Purge: Journalism

The trailer for Jake Gyllenhaal's latest film, NIGHTCRAWLER, is a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, the music is so foreboding that you're expecting something, anything, bad to happen to him (nothing does though). But on the other hand, Gyllenhaal's surprisingly gaunt body and sunken eyes make you almost want to weep for him. Which is, I suppose, what first-time director Dan Gilroy (who wrote Real Steel) was going for when he decided to tackle the story of a Lou Bloom, a driven young journalist who sinks into the world of covering dangerous Los Angeles night crimes.

Though the premise isn't particularly fresh, it's how the story is told--at least in the trailer--that will intrigue you. Gyllenhaal's bleak yet intense expression throughout the clip further outlines the journey the character takes as someone who will do anything for a story--including filming crimes as they occur, which fits in well with the voyeuristic society we live in today. In addition, Gilroy's jerky camera movements and the film's dark setting turn a familiar scene into an unsettling one. More in the synopsis:

NIGHTCRAWLER is a pulse-pounding thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling -- where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou thrives. In the breakneck, ceaseless search for footage, he becomes the star of his own story.

The last time I saw Gyllenhaal as a relentless reporter he was trying to solve the case of the zodiac killer in 2007's Zodiac, so it will be interesting to see how he approached this role (and Rene Russo!). Plus, Riz Ahmed (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) is in the movie, which is an automatic win for me.

Check out the trailer:


NIGHTCRAWLER hits theaters October 17th.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Woody Allen's MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT Unfortunately Doesn't Cast a Spell on Its Audience



I've never really liked the saying, "You're only as good as your last film." The fact that it disqualifies past great performances and films to solely determine all talent from one movie is, well, unfair. And, might I add, super lame. But it sprang to mine after I watched Woody Allen's latest, MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT. The prolific filmmaker follows up last year's fantastic Blue Jasmine with a lackluster movie that's unfortunately not as enchanting as it sounds.

After taking us on a whimsical trip through the City of Light three years ago in Midnight in Paris, Allen brings us back to France on a more pertinent mission--to determine whether the sixth sense is actually real and, if not, dismantle the notion once and for all. Well, we watch Colin Firth do it anyway. The actor plays Stanley, a renowned 1920s English magician who is brought to France by an old friend and colleague, Howard (Simon McBurney), to disprove a popular psychic (Emma Stone). Why? Because Houdini-like Stanley is ironically not a believer in actual magic or telekinesis, and if anyone could prove Sophie (Stone) to be a hack, it's him.



Already not a very interesting premise right from its start. But, like many Allen films, it's not so much the premise that draws you to the film but how engaging its character is written--down to each quirk. That's what's missing here in this film: there's just nothing very special about any of these characters. In fact, there's nothing throughout most the film to keep you invested it. It's pedestrian to the point of being bland (and I hate that I've become one of those writers that use the word "pedestrian," but it's the best way to describe it). Almost as if he realizes that the film has to be more than about a magician trying to out-trick a trickster, Allen folds MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT into a predictable, cringe-worthy romance that develops between Stanley and Sophie. What makes it uncomfortable to watch is the fact that Firth and Stone have zero chemistry together, especially for a romance. Their age differences (28 years, to be exact) aside, Firth and Stone are two very different styles of actors, neither of whom are particularly suitable for the roles they're playing here. (Casting directors continue to place Stone in roles that fall way outside her range, only utilizing her "It" girl appeal and not her actual strengths; Firth is just such a deliberate actor that to play a character that's so frivolous is an odd fit for him).

What may most attract moviegoers is MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT's portrait, albeit a sloppy one, of a man so consumed by his own desire to be clever that it is love that plays the ultimate trick on him: making him see that not everything comes down to what does and doesn't make sense to him. But does he believe in magic? Is Allen suggesting that love is magic? Perhaps, but this is not a particularly refreshing story for fans of Allen's work or even film fans at all. Frankly, it goes stale after the first twenty minutes, after you've realized exactly where it's going and how it will get there. Which makes it a chore to watch. It's far too amateur, especially from someone like Allen who's been making films for almost fifty years.

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT just seems more like notes on a scribble pad, not an actual film. Despite its decent cast (Marcia Gay Harden is in it for a moment, playing Sophie's stern mother, along with Jacki Weaver and Eileen Atkins, who's the film's true delight), charming score and cinematography, it just left me really hollow, scratching my head. Allen is better than this.

Rating: D+ (* out of *****)


MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is in select theaters July 25th. Watch the trailer:


Monday, July 21, 2014

Blog Tour: "My Writing Process"



I'm always saying how much I wish the blogging community was more tight-knit, so I am thrilled to join forces with several fellow bloggers for a more intimate blog tour that allows us to share with our readers what inspires us to write. So thank you, Toni at Splash of Tonic for throwing the baton over to me!

Here's how it works: "My Writing Process" asks us four simple questions that encourages us to think about why we write and elaborate more on our writing style. Check it out:

1) What are you working on?

I'm attending screenings, applying for festival press credentials as I prepare an informal content strategy for the fall and winter seasons. I'm always thinking of new commentary to write, as well as reviews. I'm pretty flexible in terms of content. My only ask of myself is that it's something I'm actually passionate about, or can at least put my own spin on. Additionally, I contribute blog posts for Black Girl Nerds and brainstorm topic discussions for my weekly podcast, "Cinema in Noir" (which also inspires many posts on my blog).

2) How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?

My writing has my voice. I try not to write obligatory posts just to get traffic or just because it's what everyone else is talking about. I add my own opinion and try to approach it in a way that is uniquely my own, so that readers aren't just coming to receive the same information they can get on any other site. I want them to come here because they want to know what I think about this information. I try to be engaging, fun, snarky, but also reflective and thought-provoking. As an avid reader of other blogs, it's important to me that I write in a way that would be interesting to me. I have to enjoy the process, and I can't do that if it feels mandated. I also try to keep the content diverse, and offer opinion pieces that aren't found on other sites (including sociopolitical themes in film and film criticism, TV analysis and foreign cinema).

3) Why do you write what you do?

Because I feel I can't not write about films. About five years ago, I had lost my job as a magazine editor and felt kind of lost. In order to take my mind off things, I went to see a movie that I couldn't stop discussing weeks after I had seen it. I bothered my friends--and everyone else who'd listen--with my theories and perspective on the film. Maybe it was the timing (divine intervention perhaps?), but at that point I realized how much of a film nerd I was (and still am). Then I thought, hey I should write about this--like on a blog or something. I was only going to write the one post and that was it. When I saw the response, and realized how liberated I felt to be able to share what was inside my head I had an a-ha! moment. I realized that I have something to say here, and (bonus points!) people want to actually read about it. I felt the need to get some of the thoughts that have been percolating in my head and expand on them, turn them into discussions with the readers. Writing is not only therapeutic for me, but it's also a way for me to reach people who may also be film nerds, bloggers/critics or casual movie lovers. I don't just write for one type of person, especially since I like a variety of films across many different genres, so I try to cast a wide net and see who identifies with it. Some things I write may resonate with certain people and not others, which I'm okay with. I rather write something and it not get as many hits than to keep it entangled in my brain in silence.This blog is a way for me to ensure that my voice and opinions are not stifled. I write because neither I nor my thoughts exist anywhere else. I have to create them here myself.


4) How does your writing process work?

Often it's as informal as conversations I have with people (either online or in person), or in response to trend pieces I read online. I could have a really great conversation with someone about a movie or a them in Hollywood that will inspire me to expand on the topic or counter the opinion here. Sometimes I react to a particular twitter conversation by bringing it over to the blog and expanding on it (I can better express my thoughts here than with a slim 140 characters. I like to stir conversation, not simply comply with it, and maybe start a new conversation here. Other times, I'll write a film review that is inspired by how the film made me feel, not solely how it is technically (that way it has my stamp on it). Some films make me think of larger stories on which I focus the review, and other films make me feel absolutely nothing--which also compels my opinion. I also receive a number of press releases and other publicity information that may help inspire trend pieces, or even simple matter-of-fact pieces about new releases, press images, etc. If something looks interesting to me, or if I  have something to say about it that I haven't seen anyone else say, or I think my readers might be interested in, I share it. It's very fluid.

That's it; short and sweet! I'm passing the baton over to Shala Thomas at Life Between Films and Angelica Jade Bastién at Madwomen and Muses. Shala is a huge supporter of independent film and film festivals, while Angelica is a screenwriter who's passionate about Old Hollywood. I can't wait to learn more about their writing process!

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Few Thoughts on GET ON UP (Plus 9 New Images from the Film)



I have to say, when I first saw the trailer for GET ON UP, the new biopic on late singer James Brown, I was unimpressed. It just seemed...predictable, and strikingly similar to a certain other movie about another icon, Ray. But, man, the cast is excellent. Of course director Tate Taylor, who I still have on probation for the abominable The Help, has always had a knack for securing some of the best talent in the industry (go figure). However, I am still concerned about the story Taylor, with screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (recently praised for their Edge of Tomorrow screenplay), has chosen to tell.

While according to the production notes, the film isn't your typical Wikipedia-like format as it "unfolds in a nonlinear style that allows James Brown to speak directly to us," I wonder why they chose to go with a title for the film that refers to one of Brown's popular songs in which he proclaims "I feel like being a sex machine." Doing this suggests that the story could end up focusing more on the music and less on the man (I mean, even something as simple as The Godfather of Soul would have made it seem more personal). The trailer, which you can watch here, doesn't do much else for it either--it just looks like a 2-minute music video fan montage sprinkled with obligatory James Brown affectations that give us a little detail about his background. But, hey, that's just a trailer, maybe the movie is much more.

The cast, which I mentioned above, is pretty spectacular--Chadwick Boseman, most known for playing another legend in 42, plays Brown, Viola Davis (Doubt, The Help) portrays Susie, Brown's mother, Nelsan Ellis (True Blood) is Bobby Byrd, then there's Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station, The Help), Dan Akroyd, Jill Scott (Baggage ClaimThe No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency), Tika Sumpter (Sparkle) and Craig Robinson (The Office, This Is The End). That's a mouthful.

GET ON UP will hit theaters August 1st. Check out a few more images from the film:


 



 




Thursday, July 17, 2014

THE PURGE: ANARCHY Doesn't Quite Live Up To Its Name



In the first few minutes of THE PURGE: ANARCHY, the sequel to last year's equally contumacious horror, The Purge, a message materializes on the screen that describes the dystopian events we are about to see: the nation's annual night of mayhem is about to commence, in which there will be no lawful interference. People are encouraged to exercise their legal right given to them by "The Founding Fathers" and "purge" the undesirables--specifically "the poor." Right away this incites an unsettling feeling that begs the following questions: Who decides who's poor? What level of destitution marks someone who should be eliminated? How do you locate the targets?

It's these nagging questions that pester this second installment which at its best is a hauntingly plausible look at an apocalyptic future, but at its worst never quite embraces the issues it promises to explore. Instead, the film swings between both pendulums without ever landing on a secure foot. We learn early on in the film that a rebel group, strikingly consisting mostly of African-American men, has formed to reclaim their place in society, and retaliate against the so-called elitist group of individuals who most benefit from the purge. Which is interesting since, while the first film touched on these sociopolitical issues, it never explored them. There was no armed party to stand up against the gang purgers, so everyone was at the mercy of those who purged (a more controlled concept). Now we have this opportunity to show an actual war, where everyone has taken the law into their own hands, and in which two distinct sides actively fight to survive. Even better, the action takes place outside in the streets where there is limited refuge and the stakes are higher. But all that potential goes to waste because writer/director Jason DeMonaco again chooses to focus on the helpless victims of the night, to the disadvantage of far more interesting characters and a more advanced story that could have built off the last film and personified its title.



So THE PURGE: ANARCHY isn't actually any more anarchic than the last film. By centering on these tedious individuals that get caught out in the night, we get a very similar story from the first except that the action takes place outside which makes the story more erratic (though the new setting effectively enhances the suspense, creating an overwhelming sense of vulnerability). Additionally, some of these target victims are mind-numbingly annoying. While Frank Grillo's insurgent hero is an intriguing character to watch (and Grillo does a good job with it), the film's two main female characters are unforgivably weak. Carmen Ejogo's Eva is a the epitome of a damsel in distress: she cowers at every rap on her apartment door, and for some inexplicable reason she never asserts any authority around her annoyingly loquacious daughter, Cali (Zoë Soul). So much so that I didn't even realize she was her daughter at first. Eva is always jittery, has fright in her eyes, and barely speaks above a whisper. So you can just imagine how she reacted when she and her daughter were pulled out of their homes after their (you guessed it) security system falls apart within minutes. Eva whimpers the entire time, while Cali tries to talk everyone to death (apparently that is her purge power).



It's a strange dynamic, especially when it's lined up against Grillo's more self-aware character, and that of Liz and Shane (Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford) who play a couple on the brink of separation. But actually, all of these characters could have used more development. Grillo's Sergeant has a back story we never learn until the end of the film, in a series of hyper chaotic events. We learn that Eva and Cali are specifically targeted, but that fact is not ever revisited again. But the biggest display of randomness is when the group of protagonists seek refuge in a friend's home, which becomes an incestuous war zone. Why? Because the film told us at its very beginning that the purge is about the rich getting rid of the poor, the elite human race getting rid of the weaker one. So how does a domestic squabble enforce these objectives? Why when one of the gang purgers captures the group, he sends them to a more disastrous situation where they have to fend for themselves (and therefore does not act on his "God-given" right)? There are several times throughout the film where we are led to believe that the main group of characters are specifically targeted, but we never learn why. Eva and Cali live in a rundown apartment building, so we can assume it's their economical status that makes them vulnerable. But what about Liz and Shane--why are they targeted?



These questions all lead back to my main point that the film should have focused on the rebel uprising instead. To push this group into the background is a major flaw that is emphasized in the film's penultimate act that features a pivotal and terrifically executed scene with the rebels, reminding the audience that it is they who should have been the main characters all along. DeMonaco's knack for creating anxiety and tension is excellent and provides genuine horror (the idea of actual anarchy with no legal repercussions is still terrifying), but he could have used some help in the writing. I'm completely on board with the horror action, but this sequel really points out the glaring thematic flaws. Hopefully that is tightened up in the inevitable third installment (approximately 364 days away).

Rating: C (**1/2 out of *****)

THE PURGE: ANARCHY is in theaters Friday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Filmmaker Ernest Dickerson: "Television Right Now is Doing What Film Wishes It Can Do"

Ernest Dickerson
I really love when filmmakers are so candid in interviews. On Sunday's episode of Cinema in Noir we got a chance to chat with Ernest Dickerson, notable cinematographer and director of some of your favorite movies and TV shows (including The Walking Dead, Treme, Dexter, The Wire, Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing to name a few). He discussed his transition to the small screen, the new Golden Age of TV and reveals that he's now directed eleven episodes of The Walking Dead (but can't give away any details about the new season *insert sad face here*).

Dickerson was nice also enough to dish some advice for filmmakers just starting out, what it's like to work with Spike Lee (they've known each other since film school students) and how "television right now is doing what film wishes it can do." The latter is a particularly intriguing comment as the debate about TV versus film Tyrant, Extant, I'm looking at you. Pick it up).
continues to roar on. He explains that character development in films is too often the first thing to be edited out for length; on the other hand, TV has broader space to develop both characters and plotlines, which yields a more fleshed out story. As a filmmaker who's worked in both mediums, he says, "Every show I do I try to approach like a mini movie." I wish more filmmakers understood this. Although, while they have more space to tell the story, as a viewer I think it's important that small screen filmmakers grab the audience right at the first episode of a series and not wait to until a few episodes in to get into the story. That's how you lose an audience, and also how you get canceled. (

Also on the show we shared our reactions to the 2014 Emmy nominees (Spoiler: We're psyched about Orange is the New Black!), and our reviews of Boyhood, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Life Itself. Missed the show? Listen to a recap here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wait...There's Going To Be a New Power Rangers Movie?

Image from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

This is the first question I asked myself when I received an email announcing two new writers that have joined the upcoming movie. But wait, this was just hours after I heard about a Rainbow Brite reboot! A RAINBOW BRITE REBOOT! And now...a new POWER RANGERS MOVIE! I guess I can't be surprised, what with Scooby Doo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Jem and the Holograms in the works. All we need now is a new My Little Pony movie and we can all just pretend it's 1989 again and go roller skating or something.

According to the press release, X-Men: First Class and Thor screenwriters Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz have just signed on to pen the new Power Rangers film for Lionsgate. Star Trek producer Roberto Orci has also been added as executive producer. Orci will develop the movie’s story along with Miller and Stentz, with the latter two handling screenwriting duties. Those of you who watched the original 90s TV series may remember that the show, formerly titled The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, centered on teams of young heroes and took much of its footage from the Japanese live-action show, Super Sentai.

This isn't the first time the franchise hit the big screen. The previous film, appropriately titled Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie came out in 1995, which in Hollywood time is about a hundred years ago. Here's what to expect from the upcoming movie:

The new movie promises to completely re-envision the Rangers, a group of high school kids who are infused with unique and cool super powers but must harness and use those powers as a team if they have any hope of saving the world.

On the bright side, for those of you who are skeptical of the reboot, the original franchise creator Haim Saban is one of the producers of the film, along with Allison Sheamur (The Hunger Games), so hopefully that means the essence of the original series will be retained. We'll have to wait and see once everything comes together. Of course, the biggest question will be: who will play the new version of the characters? Any thoughts on who you'd like cast in the film?

Leave your thoughts below.

Review: Spirituality and Science Collide in the Mildly Interesting Yet Tedious 'I ORIGINS'



You've got to hand it to Mike Cahill and Brit Marling. The writer/director and his muse actress (and sometimes writing partner) are always thinking outside the box when it comes to their projects. Each film they've done (separately or together) has been quirky and dealt with familiar concepts in new and fascinating ways. But their newest film, I ORIGINS, presents an interesting idea but completely mishandles it, so much so that takes the audience out of the film. Which is a shame because one of the best things about this team is that they've taken abstract subjects and made them accessible.

For what it's worth, I ORIGINS starts off intriguing enough: Eight prior to the central story, PhD student Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) meets and falls for an unidentified woman decked in head to toe leather and a ski mask who seduces him at a party. Fascinated with the human eye, he asks if he can take a picture of her eyes. After things get a little hot and heavy, he questions aloud whether they are moving too fast. To which she responds by pulling away from him as a single tear drops down his face. She disappears out of the picture much to his bewilderment.



At this point in the film there are already so many questions that this single encounter inspires: Why is she in disguise? What--besides her eyes--intrigues him so much (they barely share enough information about themselves to possibly attract one another)? At its strongest, the films plays with the idea that two souls can be destined to be together, defying all logic. But it muddles that notion with a messy scientific subplot that just gets in the way. Ian later reconnects with the mystery woman by chance on a subway, learns her name is Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) and they embark on a whimsical affair and even talk about marriage. Trouble is, she's a spiritual being who believes in things she can feel but cannot see, and he strictly believes in things that he can see and prove through science. They're two opposite sides of the coin who can still engage in compelling conversation without having really anything in common at all.



Their dialogue, though not particularly fleshed out, could have made for a great premise on its own (but possibly would have looked dangerously similar to what Terrence Malick tried to capture in To the Wonder). But the lovebirds' romance is interrupted, jolting the film seven years ahead to Ian as a molecular biologist with a new woman in his life who complies with his logical sensibilities--his lab partner Karen (Marling), a romance that despite its convenience and more cogent appeal still manages to seem random and out of place given the fact that they had a strictly professional relationship that catapulted into something much more. What's even more puzzling is when Ian admits to Karen that he never really saw a future with Sofi (Seriously, despite the fact that he proposed marriage to her?). This comment just made him sound like the "child" he accused Sofi of being.

It's this kind of contradictory writing that often frustrates the film, and takes away from what we can only presume it's trying to ask: Can logical people believe in souls and higher powers? If you go by this film, scientists, the very epitome of logical people, can be in love without having any belief in something as intangible as love, proven by Ian's somewhat cold and dutiful relationship with Karen as opposed to Sofi. The idea of love, souls and afterlives are in direct conflict with their ideals. But then again, Ian is clearly emotionally crippled by his stunted relationship with Sofi that it might be that that is propelling him further away from Karen. Which is to ask, are logical people better known as the more common phrase "emotionally unavailable?"  



Again, there are concepts in I ORIGINS that are generally interesting, but the execution is so messy that half the time you don't really know what it's trying to say. This is hampered by the scientific themes that become subplots by the end of the film. They're not fully explored. Ian is fascinated by the eyes and what they can tell us. But for someone who only trusts logic, why is he so focused on finding the soul through the eyes? Why would someone like him even care? What role does his scientific research play? It just doesn't make much sense (especially for those of us who aren't fluent in science of this nature) and is never fully explained, even when Ian travels across the world to reconnect with a soul he had long lost through a pair of anonymous eyes.

The film is nearly two hours and quite loopy given its length. There are far too many times when the story simply looses its footing and falls into another tedious direction, leaving some angles completely dangling. Though Pitt, Marling and Bergès-Frisbey's performances are all engaging (along with Steven Yeung and Archie Panjabi, in thankless roles), I ORIGINS is a misstep for Cahill.

Rating: C- (** out of *****)

I ORIGINS is in select theaters July 18th.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Contest: How Would You Survive an Actual Purge?



Ever since I saw The Purge last year, my friends and I have been debating about how we would survive an actual purge, and if we would participate in it. As it turns out, many of us are apparently closeted criminals just waiting for the chance to pull off something like this. (Just kidding...I'd be hiding out under the bed with a butter knife, saying my prayers).

All joking aside, I think that's one of the best things about the movie franchise, and any horror for that matter: it provokes the question of how we would cope if it were us in the situation. It's easy to assume how we would react, but things are often different when you actually have to deal with them. Which is why I am opening up the floor to you to get your thoughts on how you would survive a Purge, in honor of THE PURGE: ANARCHY in theaters this Friday. The person with the best response will win an official The Purge: Anarchy Prize Pack, which includes the following:

- The Purge: Anarchy Promo T-shirt (size L)
- The Purge: Anarchy Promo Flashlight

And to inspire some of your responses (creep you out a little more), check out a list of  "5 Things To Know Before You Watch The Purge: Anarchy Interactive GIFs:"


Here's a little more info on the film, in case you need it:

On July 18th, prepare for Anarchy by checking out the “5 Things To Know Before You Watch The Purge: Anarchy” Interactive GIFs. Move your mouse across the GIFs to control the scene!

The New Founders of America invite you to celebrate your annual right to Purge. The Purge: Anarchy follows an unlikely group of five citizens who, over the course of the night, are hunted across the city in a kill-or-be-killed series of survival scenarios during the annual Purge.



The last day to submit your answers is Monday, July 21st, at 11pm EST. Please remember to share your response in the comment box below and include a way to contact you should you win the prize pack. Each household is only eligible to win One (1) Purge Prize Pack via blog reviews and giveaways. Only one entrant per mailing address per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you will not be eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification. The giveaway is only open to U.S. residents.

I can't wait to see your responses!

(Review) MOOD INDIGO: A Fantastical Romance that Suffers from a Stale Story and Tedious Visuals



There is a such thing as being too visually busy. And I think Michel Gondry's new romantic fantasy, MOOD INDIGO, is just that. It's a mildly interesting romance portrayed by two solid actors that is largely overshadowed by its gimmicky effects. Which is a shame because Gondry brought us the far more engaging modern classic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The trouble with MOOD INDIGO is fairly simple; the film aims to mask a weak story with smoke screen visuals that don't add anything to the film. And what's even worse, it underestimates its audience by pretending to be anything else. Audrey Tautou plays Chloé, a lovely young woman whose character profile remains pretty bare throughout much of the film. What we know of her is through the eyes of Colin (Romain Duris), a hopeless romantic who's trying to point Cupid's arrow in his direction. With the encouragement of his loyal chef, Nicolas (Omar Sy), he sets out in search of a beloved--which is when he meets Chloé. But during this romantic rendezvous--enhanced by the couple's appreciation for Duke Ellington tunes--each scene is accompanied by peculiar animation designed to make each scene come alive. Instead, all it does is distract the audience. Minor scenes like Nicolas cooking up a nice meal for Colin and his friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) is interrupted by a recurring shtick that involves him chasing a runaway alarm clock that he eventually smashes into little pieces that scatter away like little rodents, then it puts itself back together as a clock. Or Colin's "pianocktail," his booze-creating instrument  to which he goes for solace. It sounds more creative than it is, but it's just child's play from a filmmaker who's capable of so much more.

On the positive side, Tautou is her typically charming self, playing as a woman whose spirit comes alive just as she learns she's dying--due to a mysterious mysterious flower growing in her lungs (of course). Tautou plays Chloé with more nuance than expected, given the thin character development, and ultimately creates the story's most interesting arc. Chloé is at first amiable and alluring, then eventually becomes a satisfying yet embittered woman fraught with an impairment that keeps her refined to a bed. In the meantime, Colin desperately tries to keep Chloé in his life, even if it means going bankrupt with medical bills. The last few scenes of the movie are darker and more affective to watch, but it is still burdened by the pedestrian effects that never cease to pop up when you never want them.

Though MOOD INDIGO has a few decadent scenes, it falters in execution and is never truly engrossing. While some of Gondry's signature elements are there, like quirky dialogue, it remains a hollow romantic tale that is neither fantastical nor particularly interesting. Colin and Chloé come off as mere blips swallowed by the delirious scenery. Very disappointing.

Rating: C- (** out of *****)

MOOD INDIGO opens in select theaters July 18th.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Scarlett Johansson is Ready to Kick Some Serious Ass in 7 New Images from LUCY



I am so ready for another great female hero from filmmaker Luc Besson. After The Lady (2011) was inexplicably shunned by critics, I can only hope that LUCY, Besson's newest superheroine, to remind audiences that he is one of the few filmmakers who can create a multi-layered female character who can also kick some serious ass. And since many continue to root for Scarlett Johansson's version of The Black Widow from The Avengers, it makes sense that she be the one to play her. 

Here's a little more about the film:

From La Femme Nikita and The Professional to The Fifth Element, writer/director Luc Besson has created some of the toughest, most memorable female action heroes in cinematic history. Now, Besson directs Scarlett Johansson in Lucy, an action-thriller that tracks a woman accidentally caught in a dark deal who turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

Lucy also stars Academy Award® winner Morgan Freeman and is produced by Virginie Besson-Silla for EuropaCorp. Universal Pictures will distribute the movie worldwide, except for France, Benelux and China.


The production notes are a little more compelling, and dig deeper into what the film is about. Besson was inspired to write the story based on the idea that as humans we use much less of our mind’s capacity than we are capable of using. LUCY explores what it would be like if we could access the furthest parts of our brain, and how that would affect how we see ourselves and others, how we would react to the world around us. With that in mind, this particular character becomes somewhat of a superhuman--with amazing mental and physical capability. Which means, naturally she'll develop enemies that she must annihilate. 

Sounds intriguing, right? Check out a few new images from the film:








LUCY is in theaters July 25th. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Emmy Nominee Jon Voight Plays One Hell of a Villain on RAY DONOVAN



A few weeks ago my friend delivered something like a 20-minute monologue on how great Ray Donovan is. Have you seen the show? According to her, it was one of the best shows on television (which is a big compliment considering how great TV is these days), and that Liev Schreiber may be the title character, but it's Jon Voight (who plays Schreiber's dad) who steals the show. To put it in her words, "He plays such a hateful character, with practically no redemption, but I can't get enough of him." Well, I thought, this I gotta see.

So after maneuvering my TV schedule (yes, this is now a chore for me these days), I finally sat down to watch a full episode of the Showtime series, and I was immediately hooked. So much so that I binge watched the full first season in its entirety in just a few days. In this age of the antihero, it's nice to see a character who's just a plain ole villain (a word that's become almost obsolete these days). Yes, villains can still be complex characters and, in the right actor's hands, they can be compelling to watch. That's what Voight's Mickey Donovan is--on paper, just the father of a brooding Hollywood-based fixer whose job it is to "fix" the tarnished images of celebrity stars (with his own brand of illegal persuasion) but learns that task is nothing compared to the drama he faces within his own family. Mickey is somewhat of a gangster, having rebound closer to his son in the Hollywood Hills. A true Boston villain who continues to bear the cross of having served time in prison for crimes he says were committed by his son and his crew--a fact he conveniently whips out whenever his son tries to give him the cold shoulder (which is all the time).



But Mickey doesn't consider himself a victim. No, sirree. If anything, spending time in jail boosted his street cred and made him that much more unbearable to be around--even if all he's doing is just hanging around with his cronies and minding his business. Though he wallows in his own a**holery, sometimes spewing racist remarks that only emphasize his repulsive nature, he has a weakness for African-American women--in particular, Claudette (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph). When we first meet them, we learn that their love story (so to speak) has long since been over and Claudette has moved on (much to Mickey's chagrin). So Mickey compensates by finding casual romance with similar women, and one fateful blonde (played by Rosanna Arquette), who learns too late the repercussions of hanging around someone like Mickey.

As detestable as Mickey is, he's also an aging man who's desperately trying to hold on to his threatening image, while grappling with the realization that the family he abandoned so long ago refuses to welcome him back in their lives (at least not without a cost). Mickey is like an older, slightly more domesticated version of Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed. Vile yet predictable, old yet quick. But Mickey's greatest play is that he's groomed his so-called family-focused son to follow in his footsteps without him even realizing it.

And that, my friends, is why Voight is so deserving of today's Primetime Emmy nomination for supporting actor in a drama series. Season two of Ray Donovan premieres this Sunday, July 13th, at 8pm ET/PT so you have only a few days to catch up. Get your binge watch on.

Watch a preview of the new season:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On Biblical Films, Race Maneuvering and EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS



My Biblical trivia is, let's just say, more than a little rusty. But it seems like every few months Hollywood is having me dig back into the archives of my memory as a young child, toting my children's Bible to church. What is it with the recent trend of religious movies coming out of the Hollywood machine anyway? Is the influx of dark dystopian stories compelling filmmakers to seek solace in the Holy Word?

I don't take away anything from those who admire these types of films, like Darren Aronofsky's Noah (which I still plan to see). And I can't say that I'm turned off from them myself--like any film, I look for the presentation of the story, and how it will be modernized for today's wider audience. But with all the backlash toward Noah regarding the role of race and the debate surrounding the Biblical tale, I figured Hollywood would be more weary of this genre. 

Which brings us to EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS, in which Christian Bale stars as Moses who stand as up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (played by Joel Edgerton) and frees 600,000 slaves. I really try not to get involved with religious debate and interpretation of the Bible, as I learned a long time ago that people's relationship with the Bible is very personal and applied directly to how they choose to lead their lives. And I have to respect that. But I can't say that it didn't give me pause to see the amount of tanning makeup Bale and especially Edgerton--and Sigourney Weaver, who's also in the movie--are wearing in the new trailer released on Tuesday. I mean, even the characters in Disney's The Prince of Egypt looked more authentic. And that was a cartoon.



That aside, however, the movie does look gorgeous, in an epic Gladiator kind of way, which makes sense since it was directed by Ridley Scott. The clip throws us right into the tension between Moses and Ramses, as the camera pulls back to show us the glorious photography of each scene. For what it's worth, I am interested to see how Bale and Edgerton will adopt these roles, but I can only say that I am cautiously optimistic at this point. Here's a little more on the film:

From acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Prometheus) comes the epic adventure “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” the story of one man’s daring courage to take on the might of an empire. Using state of the art visual effects and 3D immersion, Scott brings new life to the story of the defiant leader Moses (Christian Bale) as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.

Aaron Paul, John Turturro and Ben Kingsley are also in the film, which rounds out a star-studded cast. Steve Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Moneyball, American Gangster) wrote the screenplay. 



Watch the new trailer:


EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS hits theaters December 12th.

Photo credits: Kerry Brown - TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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